Month: November 2016

Abolish the Senate!

Many distraught Democrats and members of the press (but I repeat myself) have called for abolishing the Electoral College. Senator Barbara Boxer went so far as to introduce a bill to end the Electoral College on November 15 following the election.

I have yet to hear the call for the next logical step, to abolish the U.S. Senate to provide us with a pure representational and direct democracy. I humbly submit that the same reasoning applies to abolishing both. I did not hear Sen. Boxer call for the ending of the Senate, even though her retirement would mean she has nothing personally to lose.

Yet both the Senate and Electoral College subvert direct democracy.  Don’t they?

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.2 million votes (64,654,445 to 62,418,792 according to Cook Political Report). College students, professors, and unbiased media professionals wept, tore their shirts and pulled their hair at the thought of President Donald Trump.

“This is a sad day for democracy!” they cried. “Abolish the Electoral College that would so subvert the will of the American people!”  “This is not how democracy is supposed to work.”

Yet this is exactly how our constitutional republic was designed to work by the Founding Fathers. Sorta.

The first place to turn for understanding what went into the thinking behind the Constitution, which established the Electoral College in Article II, section 1, is that contemporaneous advertising blitz of 1788 we now call The Federalist Papers. Penned variously by James Madison (father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights), Alexander Hamilton and John Jay under the pen name “Publius”, these tracts were published to explain and garner public support for the work-in-progress Constitution.

Disappointingly, the tract directly addressing the Electoral College (Federalist 68) is not all that helpful. Alexander Hamilton explained why the Electoral College process is superior to popular voting in what was an overly-optimistic view of the electors themselves:

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

Unfortunately, the electors remain anonymous to most voters. We are unable to evaluate their discernment, but that is not an issue since they almost always vote for the candidate they are pledged to. Twenty-six states have laws which require electors to vote for their specific candidate. Since electors are selected by the political parties prior to the election, and the position is often a reward for faithful service to the party, defections are rare.

Hamilton* viewed the election of a short-term assembly of electors by popular vote as a preventative against foreign involvement or regional popularity.

Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.

Hamilton’s vision of electors never came to pass, and the Constitution (and even the Twelfth Amendment which changed how electors vote) has never been faithfully followed. Regarding the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, Walter Bagehot, in his seminal 1894 work The English Constitution (not to be confused with the U.S. Constitution, as it is not a single document), observed:

It was intended that the deputies when assembled should exercise a real discretion, and by independent choice select the president. But the primary electors take too much interest. They only elect a deputy to vote for Mr. Lincoln or Mr. Breckenridge, and the deputy only takes a ticket, and drops that ticket in an urn. He never chooses or thinks of choosing. He is but a messenger—a transmitter; the real decision is in those who choose him—who chose him because they knew what he would do.

The Twelfth Amendment changed the way electors voted from having the winner in the electoral count be president and the runner-up named vice president; the two offices are now voted on separately. With the advent of the two-party system after George Washington’s terms, and rancorous divisions between the two winning candidates, the original plan was deemed unworkable. The first example of this occurred early on, as John Adams, Federalist Party, was the second president and Thomas Jefferson, the opposition Democratic-Republican party, became vice president. Jefferson and James Madison had formed the new party to oppose the policies of the Federalist party (and Jefferson).

Imagine today a President Reagan and Vice President Carter. Or worse (perhaps) President Trump and Vice President Clinton.

Given that the Electoral College has never worked as intended in the Constitution, what keeps us from abolishing it as a failed experiment of well-intentioned but overly-optimistic dead white males?

The answer is found in James Madison’s (or possibly Hamilton’s) Federalist No. 62 regarding the Senate. The House of Representatives was established as a representative body with proportional representation based upon population. The Founding Fathers were aware of the problems this presented; for example, it is for this reason Blacks were designated 3/5 of a person, to dilute the southern states’ power in the House by diminishing the census count for non-voting slaves. Even so, southern states dominated the federal government until 1861.

The Senate was another check against some states having greater power due solely to their populations. Publius wrote that while states should have representation proportional to their population there were other considerations:

If indeed it be right, that among a people thoroughly incorporated into one nation, every district ought to have a proportional share in the government, and that among independent and sovereign States, bound together by a simple league, the parties, however unequal in size, ought to have an equal share in the common councils, it does not appear to be without some reason that in a compound republic, partaking both of the national and federal character, the government ought to be founded on a mixture of the principles of proportional and equal representation.

Why was there need for both an equal and proportional representation in the federal government?

A government founded on principles more consonant to the wishes of the larger States, is not likely to be obtained from the smaller States.***

In this spirit it may be remarked, that the equal vote allowed to each State is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual States, and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty.

Much has been made of the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by at least 2.1 million votes. Yet an examination of just two states shows the wisdom of the Founders in setting up both a House and Senate, as well as the Electoral College. Clinton won California by 3.9 million votes, and New York state by 1.5 million votes.   If you add just Illinois to the mix, you add another 942,000 vote victory for Clinton.

California alone could have won a popular election for Clinton given her overwhelming victory there.

The votes in these three states would have overwhelmed the votes in less populous states, and California would essentially be in the position of kingmaker every four years. In Los Angeles County alone Clinton got over 1.2 million more votes than Trump.

In perspective, the margin of Clinton’s win in California was greater than the votes cast in 40 states, and greater than the population of 21 states.

How would a state like Idaho (with about 700,000 votes cast), or North Dakota (about 350,000 votes) have had any relevance to the election of a president who would help determine their future? Would a candidate even bother to take their concerns into account, or try to win their votes? North Dakota is a major contributor to our economy with the oil fields booming (in April it produced more oil than in 2004), and it is important to their economy and citizens how the national government handles things like permits, leases, as well as any administrative policies which impact oil and gas production, transportation, taxes, etc.

The Electoral College is based in large part on the same theories today as the Senate. Electors are apportioned not only by the number of the population-based House members but Senate seats (435 for House, 100 for Senate, and 3 for the District of Columbia). Thus, states with a small population also have at least three electors no matter their population. They matter. So much so that candidate Barack Obama visited fifty-seven states during the 2008 campaign.

The Electoral College system forces a different strategic and tactical plan by candidates. They cannot ignore the “flyover” states to just campaign in the most populous on the coasts and thereby secure victory. Some swing states become critical to winning, elevating them to an unnatural position of political prominence (such as Ohio and Florida). But without our system, presidential elections would solely be based upon the interests of a few populous states.

If the Electoral College should be abolished, because it does not accurately reflect the popular vote, then the Senate should also be abolished. Why should Wyoming (population just north of 586,000) have a voice equal to California (over 39 million folks) in the Senate, the world’s greatest deliberative body?

Let’s carry this through to the logical conclusion if we only want popular votes to matter. Abolish the Senate as undemocratic!  It gives those ignorant hayseed states clinging to their bibles and guns too much federal power.  Let the coastal elites decide!


*It is more than ironic that a Broadway actor portraying Hamilton would accuse a vice president elect prior to taking office of not being faithful to traditions even as Democrats voice opposition to Hamilton’s values and inalienable rights.


Ten Predictions for Trump 45

I believed that Trump would lose. So strongly did I believe this (because I honestly couldn’t hold out hope for the elusive “hidden Trump voters”) that I decided I would not watch or listen to any media Tuesday night, believing I would be greeted today with ebullient headlines “Historic Hillary Win!”

About 11:30 PM PST Tuesday night I succumbed to my Albert Powell moment from Dirty Harry – “I gots to know.” I was stunned that Trump was ahead at 260 electoral votes to Clinton’s 214. I then watched for a couple of hours, ending with Trump’s surprisingly gracious acceptance speech.  This might just work.

Like virtually everyone else (except the basket of deplorables who crowded every Trump appearance) I had expected his defeat at every point along the campaign. While his recently-exposed locker room braggadocio hadn’t shocked or changed my opinion of the man (I have been in a few locker rooms; men are all pigs) I figured it was one last nail in his coffin in our faint-hearted identity politics society.

Reading the array of commentary today (I even read Maureen Dowd, a shocker) I keep going back to the one insight I had that I feel explains Trump’s win – it was more than attacking the PC world we have come to expect and loathe from politicians.

Trump lanced the festering boil on the regular American’s psyche. Trump relieved the majority of Americans’ cognitive dissonance we’ve been forced to endure for decades, being told by our betters that outrageous things were proper when common sense and decency told us they were not.

He made it OK to recognize that our understanding of the world was not perverted, racist, Islamophobic, sexist or whatever. Real people, those who work hard and try to raise their kids decently and worry about bills and the future, have been forced to accept conflicting beliefs by news media and Hollywood and politicians and educators.

Trump, in his hyperbolic speeches, said things that people had always believed but were afraid to voice because of the guilt culture had imposed. You cannot speak openly against illegal immigration because you are racist, all the while knowing it to be wrong and harmful to the culture and country. You cannot acknowledge that there are real reasons other than racism for certain minorities having higher incarceration rates. It’s wrong to believe that transgender bathrooms make no sense and place children at risk of physical and psychological harm.

When Trump started speaking, in his self-important, coarse and contradictory manner, people were freed from the guilt they had been feeling for so long because they were constantly being told that their actual observations and understanding were abhorrent.

The elites on both sides still get it wrong. We will hear much about how white males with no college carried Trump across the finish line. That ignores the fact that many others had to have voted for him. It betrays the continuing conceit that informed and sophisticated voters could not possibly have believed him a better choice that Hillary. She went to Wellesley and Yale, doncha know?

So I was wrong again and again this cycle. What to do? Make predictions for Trump 45, of course. Here they are:

  1. Republicans in Congress will bring back the checks and balances to the legislative and administrative branches, rediscovering their courage in stopping President Trump’s excesses in the way they were too weak to stop President Obama.
  2. Justice Clarence Thomas will retire after seeing who President Trump nominates to replace the sorely-missed Antonin Scalia. I don’t expect infallibility in nominating justices of the caliber of Thomas and Scalia (remember Ronald Reagan gave us Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy) but I am certain Trump will give us a much better Supreme Court than Clinton would have. While Trump may be in the position to nominate 3-4 Supreme Court Justices, the Court will not move perceptibly conservative but will ward off the leftward swing of recent years.  The First and Second Amendments will remain intact.
  3. Trump’s victory will mark “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Just kidding. Obama has done that already.
  4. Like all presidents before him, Trump will be exposed to a harsh dose of reality about foreign policy that will moderate many of his positions.       He will be especially shocked by the Stargate program. He will then invest heavily in gold.
  5. James Comey will stay on as FBI director, but his marching orders will change. There will be indictments of players around the Clintons but not of Hillary.  Much as I’d love to see her frog-marched in cuffs I don’t think it will happen.
  6. Melania Trump will be the most beautiful, classy and stylish first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy (no one will ever replace Jackie in the mythos, deserved or not). The press will ignore Melania. She will take on projects that actually help Americans.
  7. President Trump will not receive a Nobel Peace Prize, nor will he be nominated for one two weeks after his inauguration.
  8. Knowing they will not be vetoed, major legislation on healthcare, border security and immigration, and free speech will be passed by Congress.
  9. Some kind of a wall will be built along the US-Mexico border, and security will be enhanced. Mexico will not pay for it.  Millions of illegals will not be deported.
  10. Deficit spending will continue and increase, but at a slower rate than the last 8 years.

I do expect that there will be many cringe-worthy moments during the Trump administration, but there should be some real gains. While Trump was not in my top 5 candidates, he may well be the only one with the ego and brashness to actually change the ingrown culture of corruption and favor-trading that sucks even the brightest and most ideal in Washington into Re-election, Inc.